Every program goes through a down period from time to time. Coaches leave, players leave, it's going to happen. What makes a program elite is the ability to bounce back quickly. Longhorn fans suffered through a handful of losing seasons in the 90's under David McWilliams and John Mackovic, but when Mack Brown took over in 1998, things changed. Not only did they not have a losing season for 12 years but they won 10 or more games for 9 straight seasons, won 3 BCS Bowls, and a National Title. Then last season happened. Colt McCoy, Jordan Shipley, Aaron Williams, Sergio Kindle, and others were gone and the Longhorns struggled, badly. They lost home games to UCLA, Iowa State, and Baylor; something that is unacceptable at Texas. In my opinion, Mack Brown wasn't on the hot seat despite a 5-7 season, he'd earned some grace and patience, but that doesn't mean that there wasn't a tremendous amount of pressure on the program to bounce back.
So how'd they do? They won 7 games and made a bowl game so on the surface, it looks like they improved and had a successful season. Is 7 wins a successful season at Texas? Of course not, but considering how young they were and the injuries that likely prevented 2 additional wins, it wasn't a failure by that measure.
However, beyond wins, this season was about finding out who the next stars would be and getting them established in the system. They'd lost a lot of talent to the pros and this was almost a try-out year for the young players going into next year when the Longhorns would hopefully be ready to make a run. On offense freshman running backs Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron, and freshman wide receiver Jaxon Shipley all shined and showed flashes of future greatness. Early on it was Brown who rushed for 110 yards in his first start in the game at UCLA. Then Shipley started to look like his older brother with a 6-catch, 141 yard, 1 touchdown performance at Iowa State. Later on it was fellow freshman Joe Bergeron who rushed for a combined 327 yards in back to back games vs. Kansas and Texas Tech. All three of those players struggled with injuries during the 2nd half of the season, but I believe we saw enough to know that each one could be a star soon.â†µ
On defense sophomore Jackson Jeffcoat improved with 5.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss, good enough to make the All Big 12 second team. Junior Alex Okafor doubled last seasons sack total, led the team with 14 tackles for loss, 17 quarterback pressures (team-high), two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. This performance earned him a spot on the American Football Coaches Association All-America Team and a unanimous selection to the All Big 12 first team. In the secondary junior Kenny Vaccaro also made the All Big 12 first team and Quandre Diggs was selected as the conference's Defensive Freshman of the Year. The Longhorns other starting corner, sophomore Carrington Byndom was an All Big 12 honorable mention selection; in my opinion, a snub.â†µ
When you read all that, there is plenty of reason for hope and excitement for the future, but there's still one problem; no quarterback. No one expected any of this years quarterbacks to play to the level of Vince Young or Colt McCoy, andthey didn't have to, but they needed to find their QB of the future. Last season saw a predictable drop-off in the positions production from McCoy to Garrett Gilbert, how drastic the drop-off was though was a concern. A one year slump is a down year, but when that slump hits a second year it starts to become a trend and a reason for concern. Since Colt McCoy left, they've tried three different QB's, two of them very highly recruited, and none of them have the look or talent of a long-term solution. That was the main goal of this season, find your quarterback for the next 2-3 years. They didn't and will go into next season still wondering, and quite possibly will be starting another new quarterback if incoming freshman Connor Brewer plays well in training camp. On that criteria, the Longhorns and Mack Brown failed this season.â†µ
Mack Brown has earned the benefit of the doubt and compared to SEC fans, Longhorn fans are fairly patient. However, that patience is running out and the fans won't tolerate a 3rd season with no quarterback. The pressure is on, the spotlight on Texas will be as hot as the summer sun.